Nora Dunn has been a professional wanderer for the past 3.5 years. During that time she has visited 21 countries on five continents. With regular writing gigs at Transitions Abroad and Wisebread, and a possible future travel TV show, she has no plan to slow down any time soon.
Dunn, a former financial planner, distinguishes herself from other travel bloggers (in both practice and writing) with her thriftiness. In addition to writing about ways to stretch a dollar, she stretches them herself—remarkably well—by traveling slowly and saving money through novel methods such as house sitting and caretaking. I e-mailed Dunn in Australia, where she had just arrived after finishing a the pilot for a travel TV show in Nepal, to ask her about solo travel, saving money, and inspiring books.
Matt Gibson: You’ve been working on a pilot for a TV series recently. Can you tell me about that?
Nora Dunn: Well, it’s pretty top secret stuff (no really, it is!), but I can tell you that in September I filmed a travel TV series pilot in Paris and Nepal, and we stopped traffic (literally). It’s for a North American broadcast audience, and I’ll be sure to share more on that as soon as there’s news to share!
MG: You started traveling with your boyfriend, but later continued alone. What was your first solo trip?
ND: My first solo trip was a six month streak through New Zealand and Europe. I got my solo travel groove on, and I’m having a blast now.
MG: Most women are warned not to travel alone. Were you frightened?
ND: One of the things I’ve discovered through travel is that 99% of the people out there are fundamentally good. There are heaps of awesome female solo travelers! I’ve never been frightened about it, beyond getting butterflies in my tummy (which I actually quite enjoy – it means I’m doing something good).
MG: You use several unique strategies for saving money on the road, such as house sitting and volunteering. What have you found to be the most effective ways to save money on the road?
ND: My money management techniques are less about saving money, and more about making full-time traveling financially sustainable. With a freelance writing income I don’t earn a huge amount, but I write what I want for whom I want which is well worth it. In order to get by on this income, I volunteer in trade for my accommodation in many of the places I go (house-sitting, caretaking, etc). This keeps my expenses low and allows me to travel slowly, often experiencing a slice of local life wherever I go.
MG: Your writing appears in many places. May I ask what proportions of your income come from books, articles, your blog, and other sources?
ND: Most of my income comes from columns I write for Wise Bread, AmEx, Care One, Transitions Abroad, and other one-off articles I write online and for magazines. I also make some money from affiliate sales, my blog, and even the occasional donor.
MG: What non-monetary benefits, professional or personal, do you get from blogging?
ND: Being part of a community as tight-knit as travel bloggers and writers has many perks, which include the occasional chance to meet up on the road – a very rewarding experience. There’s also lots of moral and professional support when I need it, which can be comforting in the sometimes isolated world of travel.
MG: What’s the most popular post on The Professional Hobo?
MG: Has traveling alone as a woman ever limited your travel experience?
ND: I’ve actually found solo travel to be more liberating than limiting. It’s easier to meet new people, easier to get invitations for homestays (whereas putting up a couple isn’t always possible), and it becomes more necessary to interact with others (ideally locals), which often creates a more authentic travel experience. The sense of accomplishment I get from pushing my boundaries as a solo traveler is brilliant. The only limiting factor is a constant consideration for safety, and not getting into a situation I can’t get out of.
MG: You are now a role model for solo female travelers around the world. Who inspired you?
ND: Rita Golden Gelman wrote a book called Tales of a Female Nomad, which was a great inspiration for my own solo travels.
MG: What equipment do you carry for working on the road?
ND: I have a laptop, iTouch, unlocked cell phone, camera, and external hard drive for back-ups. I also carry a slew of cords and chargers for everything, as well as a few extra parts just in case.
MG: Is there a particularly good book, article, or author that you read recently you’d like to recommend?
ND: I’m currently reading The Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux, where he hops on a train in Boston and rides it to the bottom of Patagonia. It’s about the journey rather than the destination, the writing is superb, and it further stokes my love of international train travel.